This fictionalised account of the titular WWII bomber’s final mission feels like the last gasp of the old-school war movie before CGI and Saving Private Ryan revolutionised screen combat.
The four American officers and six enlisted men of the ‘Memphis Belle’ – a B-17 bomber so nicknamed for the girlfriend of its stern and stoic captain, Dennis Dearborn (Matthew Modine) – will soon start their 25th mission, having completed their previous 24 successfully with nary an incident, while fewer and fewer planes are coming back from their missions at all.
If they complete their next mission successfully, they will be the first Army Air Corps B-17 Crew to complete their tour of duty.
Visiting communications officer Lt. Col. Bruce Derringer (John Lithgow) wants to publicise their accomplishment even before it happens, as a long term good news campaign at a time when there is little good news to report.
Director Michael Caton-Jones follows closely the real-life inspiration of William Wyler’s 1944 propaganda documentary – arguably, too closely.
The startling mimicry of matinee style offers a textbook example of exposition and ensemble acting (by Matthew Modine and Eric Stoltz amongst others) but leaves a film that is undeniably charming and achingly nostalgic but altogether too cosy to capture the situation’s real danger.
The ‘Sally B’, one of two B-17s portraying the ‘Belle in the film, is the last airworthy B-17 in the UK. She is based at the Imperial War Museum Duxford in Cambridgeshire.
Capt. Dennis Dearborn
Sgt. Danny “Danny Boy” Daly
1st Lt. Luke Sinclair
Lt. Phil Lowenthal
Lt. Val “Valentine” Kozlowski
Sgt. Richard “Rascal” Moore
Sgt. Clay Busby
Harry Connick Jr.
Sgt. Virgil Hoogesteger
Sgt. Eugene McVey
Sgt. Jack Bocci
Col. Craig Harriman
Lt.Col. Bruce Derringer